ORTHODOX CHURCH DIFFICULT
by Donald Att water
FROM early times the Christjan Church could be regarded in two broad divisions : the Western church, with its centre at Rome, and the Eastern church, with no one single permanent centre.
Over the whole Church the Pope had, as Supreme Pontiff. an authority of which the extent and manner of exercise were not clearly defined.
In addition, as Patriarch of the West. the Pope had a variable. but ex tensive general jurisdiction over the Western church only. In the East, this patriarchal jurisdiction was the prerogative not of one but of several bishops, the Eastern patriarchs (originally those of Constantinople, Alexandria. Antioch and Jerusalem).
For this and other reasons the Pope meant a very great deal less in the day to-day life of Christianity in the East than he did in the West; normally he played little or no part in that life (papal authority as such does not have to be exercised every day). In other words, tts an Eastern Catholic his chief hierarch was for practical purposes not the Pope but the " local " patriarch. (We Western Catholics rarely
realise that cam to-day most of the Pope's jurisdictional activity in our regard_ is in his patriarchal and not his papal capacity,
East and West Were One
Last and West were One Undivided Church, united in the faith and gospel and mystical body of Jesus Christ. But they differed in almost everything else: different carton law, different customs and ideas. different rites' of worship: e.g.. the West had its Latin Mass, the East its own form of Mass in Greek or Slavonic (called the " Byzantine rite "). There has never been any principle in the Church of uniformity in such matters.
At the beginning of the middle agef, the Eastern and Western parts of the Chinch were drifting apart as a result of disputes and other events and conditions. By the year 1054 a very serious position came about, arid during the following four hundred years the separation between East and West gradually became complete and (up to the present) permanent. But the, Eastem clergy and people. whether as individuals or organised churches, were not and never have been excommunicated by Rome (only a few prelates so suffered), nor did any note of heresy certainly attach to them.
The Eastern church that drifted into schism at that time is what we now know as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
NOTE.—There were smaller bodies of Easlern Christians who had separated from Catholic unity much earlier. Some of these still exist hut are of little practical importance (e.g., the Armenians, the Egyptian Copts).
The Orthodox Church To-day
The Orthodox Church now numbers nominally some 150 million members. It is organised into over a dozen churches on a national basis, each
administratively independent. The most numerous and important are the ahurches of Russia, Rumania, Greece
and Yugoslavia. They still use the Byzantine rite for worship, now in many languages
There is no single head of the Orthodox Church: the Patriarch of Constantinople is first among its bishops, but the position is almost perely honorary—he is not a sort of " Orthodox Pope." Its supreme authority is a general council of the Orthodox Churelb, but suet an assembly has never met.
The Orthodox Church has not the detailed unanimity about faith and morals that is found in the Roman Catholic Church. But it ostensibly differs little from us: on the whole their Christianity is Catholic, but without the ffevelopments of the past nine hundred years. There is " little that divides them from Us; when that little is taken away they agree with us about the remainder: so much is this so that we take arguments ,and proofs for the vindication of Catholic doctrine from the rites, teaching and practices of the Eastern Christians " (Pope Leo XIII).
Orthodox clergy are validly ordained; their sacraments are true sacraments (a dying Catholic may receive the last sacraments from an Orthodox priest). Their various hierarchies arc the organic representatives of ecclesiastical organisations that once were in Catholic communion.
It appears, in fact, that the Orthodox Church is still in some sense a part, but a separated part, of the visible Catholic Church. This was illustrated at the. time of the Vatican Council and in other activities of the Holy Ste. It is noticeable (and a usage to be followed) that nowadays official Roman references do not call the Orthodox " schismatics " but dissidentes. " dissidents."
The Orthodox Church, while strongly denying his teaching infallibility and supreme jurisdiction. still looks on the Pope as the first patriarch and chief of all Christian bishops. without whom no general council of the Church would he complete.
Note. At various dates bodies of Orthodox have returned to communion with the Holy See. These are the Catholics of Byzantine rite, so called because they of course keep their own liturgy, canon law and other Eastern usages.
Since the essential differences between Catholics and Orthodox appear relatively little (though important) it would seem that reunion between us should be a not too difficult matter. This is not so. Humanly speaking there seems no prospect within foreseeable time of reunion coming about betweeri Rome and the Orthodox Church or any of its major component churches.
The reason for this is that for practical purposes the most important fac
tors are not religious and theological; they are psychological and historical. Our mutual opposition and lack of contact for centuries has produced a mass of subtle misunderstandings, emphases, prejudices, variations, attitudes, " slants," imponderables, on both sides, that may take as many centuries to unravel and resolve.
Secular politics and national passions are an important element among
these factors. Just as troubles between Irish and English are often seen in terms of Catholic and Protestant, so (for example) many Catholic Poles hate Orthodoxy as " the Russian religion," many Orthodox Serbs hate Catholicism as " the Croat religion." Civit governments use these ghastly divisions and dissensions for their own ends. To come down no later, a movement in 1861 to unite the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria with the Holy Sec miscarried largely through the 'efforts of the Russian " foreign office."
Nobody knows the nature and the difficulties of the Catholic Church's position in selation to the Orthodox better than the Holy See. She aims, not at absorption (" ecclesiastical imperialism "a but at the free corporate reunion of the Orthodox Church or its component churches. (This. of course, does not exclude the reunion of Jesse' bodies or of individuals who so desire.) And the Church's great activity in this field (especially under Pius XI) is directed toward, as it were, the beginning of a beginning of ixeparing the ground and producing a state of things that may be favourable to reunion some time hence. The perind of prayer, study, discussion, making contacts—in a word, of bringing about conditions of mutual friendliness, understanding and trust between Catholics and Orthodox—may be a very long one.
The Russian Church
Since the sixteenth century the Russian Church has aspired to lead
Orthodoxy; since 1917 it has become
one of the most persecuted churches of Christian history, taking a place with the churches of Rome or Africa or Persia in the early centuries: but the state of Christianity in Russia to-day and the significance of certain events there are matters about ,which certainty is at present impossible.
What is said above about misunderstanding, suspicion and psychological
divergences between Catholics and Orthodox is especially true where Russians are concerned. Even before the revolution Catholics in Russia were relatively very fcw: moreover they,
were localised and mostly foreigners (especially Poles). And it is true, as
stated in THE CATHOLIC HERALD le cently, that the higher Russian clergy (and not they alone) are very hostile to
Rome; on the other hand, Catholics are nearly always quite ignorant about Orthodoxy (and not rarely prejudiccal as well).
It is impossible to work directly for reunion in an atmosphere of hostility and ignorance and of " We are always wholly right and the other fellows are always wholly wrong.' It is of the essence of the work of the Catholic Slav-Byzantine clergy of the Russicom College and elsewhere to help to begin to dispel that atmosphere; and they aspire to be able to help in drawing to Christ the young non-Christians. of Soviet Russia.
. So far as the Orthodox churches as such are concerned, this must always be borne in mind: that the " longterm " hope of the -Catholic Church is not to " convert " them to the ways of the West (that is both impossible and undesirable), but to welcome them back to oecumenical unity as organising with their own hierarchies, rites of worship, and ways of thought and life. Pope Pius X1 complained that Catholics are sometimes wanting in appreciation of, and brotherly love for, their separated Orthodox brethren, and attributed this to ignorance.
" Pieces broken from gold-bearing rock themselves bear gold," he said, " and the ancient Christian bodies of the East keep so venerable a holiness that they call forth not only res`beet but complete sympathy."
We can all of us contribute to the reunion of Christians by decreasing our ignorance and increasing our sympathy.
(Pictures Beet Page.)